A bold new future for pharmacy practice

CONTRIBUTOR

Brent Stutz

Senior Vice President, Commercial Technologies, Pharmaceutical Segment

Technology is evolving rapidly and changing the way all healthcare providers interact with patients. This is true of community pharmacy as well. Here, Brent Stutz, the leader Cardinal Health’s innovative technology lab, Fuse, talks about how technology will continue to shape pharmacy practice.

Q: Technology is an integral part of community pharmacy. What will be the next big thing in the field? How will technology’s impact on pharmacy practice evolve over the next three to five years?

The real question to ask is: “Does technological innovation improve patient care and health outcomes?” For community pharmacies and patients to benefit from new technologies, it is imperative that the entire healthcare system is connected.

One way this is happening is through the Pharmacy Health Information Technology (HIT) Collaborative, which seeks to:

  • Ensure HIT supports pharmacists in healthcare service delivery
  • Achieve pharmacists’ integration within the health information exchange
  • Support national quality initiatives enabled by HIT

As patient care services continue to evolve in community pharmacies along with the development of connected technologies that allow seamless clinical comments and billing, the rate of change in community pharmacy will accelerate. It is anticipated that within five years, community pharmacies will be seen as a central location for patient access to primary care. The combination of connected new technology and the evolution of community pharmacy practice will lead to better health outcomes.

Q: Telehealth and telepharmacy have obvious applications in rural areas, where a patient may have to travel many miles to see a healthcare provider. Does this technology have a broader application in urban and suburban markets? How might it affect pharmacist-patient interactions?

The Internet has changed the way people obtain information about their health. They can use apps to monitor health progress, self-diagnose on WebMD, and order tests through the mail. Patients, regardless of location, currently look to technology to address minor health needs. Consider the “click to chat” trend: people are more comfortable with a “virtual” experience than in years past when every illness or health concern required a doctor visit. While access may be the biggest barrier in rural settings, time and convenience are barriers in all settings. As we get more comfortable with technology, digital conversations regarding care and wellness will become common and occur more frequently. Patients can receive care when they need it at a location, time and environment of their choosing, making it more likely they will seek care. As a result, we’ll see the pharmacist’s role integrate even further into the patient care cycle, which will have profound positive impacts on patient outcomes.

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Q: In-store technology, wearables and other products designed for use by consumers are proliferating. What impact will they have on health outcomes? How can pharmacists and other providers take advantage of the data generated by those devices to deliver better patient care?

“Getting your steps in” has become part of our vernacular. It’s not just monitoring physical activity; wearables now monitor heart rate, sleep patterns and connect to other apps around nutrition and mood. Our cell phones monitor health data without even downloading an app. Pharmacists can deliver better patient care through wearables both formally and informally. Informally, pharmacists can start conversations with their patients. They can ask patients if their employer offers an incentive to use a wearable or comment on the device they’re wearing and ask about their progress.

Formally, medication adherence or insulin pump devices can sync with wearables to update progress to caregivers, physicians and pharmacists, creating a circle of care for the patient. In fact, this metric, which connects medication use and the corollary heath outcome will completely disrupt the current medication adherence measurements in the market—Proportion of Days Covered (PDC). The industry will begin to view medication adherence as less relevant than answering the question, “How is this medication impacting the health and wellness of the patient?” Pharmacists become more valuable to the healthcare system as they are given increased details on how medication use impacts patients’ health.

Q: In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about electronic medical records. What is the current state of medical records in the field? What more needs to be done to make EMRs easily accessible to the full spectrum?

EMRs have become a standard in the provider setting. However, integration for other care team members, including pharmacists, has been limited to transactions such as e-prescribing. This lack of integration, coupled with the lack of record movement between systems, is limiting efficacy. Greater interoperability is required for more comprehensive patient records. There are several barriers to this and it will take some time to resolve. Pharmacists can play a unique role that no other provider is capable of doing; they have greater visibility across providers to what has been e-prescribed (and possibly not filled) and can create the authoritative medication record for a patient. This is something to watch and consider as systems and clinical workflow continues to evolve.

Q: The Internet and social media are ubiquitous. How can pharmacy operators, as well as manufacturers of healthcare products, leverage those tools to improve patient care, as well as market their goods and services?

Just as telehealth and telepharmacy can actually increase engagement between pharmacists and the patient, social media can also enhance the relationship while providing education and increasing awareness. The conversation is not just one-way.

For example, a pharmacy can post a question on Facebook such as, “How did you teach your child to swallow a pill?” or “What tips do you have to remind your loved ones to take their medication?” These kinds of questions start a dialogue—they create a connection between the pharmacy and the community. In order to market goods via social media, pharmacists must first become trusted advisors and build relationships by providing useful, helpful information. Simply placing ads will not create affinity or conversion.

Q: Data breaches are a constant threat. Do pharmacies have adequate safeguards in place to protect patient data?

Data security is only as strong as the weakest link. While it may be possible any given pharmacy or provider has a weakness, there are a broad set of security standards and protocols to safeguard patient data. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that was passed by Congress in 1996 requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information. In order to comply with HIPAA, healthcare as a whole has embraced data security more aggressively than most other industries.

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in Good Medicine, a publication dedicated to highlighting the innovation and creativity of retail community pharmacists across the country. The 2016 edition of Good Medicine was first released at our 2016 Retail Business Conference.